Ottawa’s rout of the New York Islanders earlier today put the heat on the Bruins to win the Northeast Division title without backing into it.
On the strength of Patrice Bergeron’s power-play goal and Tim Thomas’ 33 saves, the Bruins did just that by beating the New York Rangers, 2-1, at Madison Square Garden. It was Boston’s first win in four tries against Eastern Conference-leading Rangers this season.
The Bruins became the first team since the NHL went to six divisions in 1998-99 to repeat as Northeast Division champions. Combined with a shootout loss by Florida in Detroit, the Bruins are now locked-in as the No. 2 seed in the East. And a first-round playoff matchup with Ottawa looks likely.
•Every-night observers of Bergeron know that he is far and away one of the elite two-way forwards in the NHL. So tonight he couldn’t have picked a better time to play his best — what, with the game nationally televised on NBC Sports Network and Mike Milbury singing the center’s praises throughout the NBC studio shows. Bergeron not only scored the game-winning goal on a second-period power play, he won 17 of 19 faceoffs and was plus-1. On the weekend, he was plus-4 in Boston’s two-game sweep of the New York teams.
Bergeron has one more nationally televised chance (Tuesday night at home vs. Pittsburgh) to make his pitch to the voters of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, who have to cast their ballots before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, last year’s winner Ryan Kesler of Vancouver and Detroit perennial candidate Pavel Datsyuk should be Bergeron’s stiffest competition. But none of them are having the type of season Bergeron is producing with 22-39-61 totals, a plus-36 rating and a faceoff percentage close to 60 percent.
•The power-play goal snapped a couple droughts. Boston had been 0-for-8 against the Rangers this season. It had also been 0-for-11 over the last six games. The Bruins were 1-for-2 on the power play. It’s time to abandon the experiment of putting Rich Peverley at the point, which is almost as humorous as watching Mark Recchi play back there. The Bruins are deep with defensemen that can get shots on net. Dennis Seidenberg should be joined by either Johnny Boychuk or Andrew Ference with Peverley playing up front with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
•The Bruins’ penalty kill went 3-for-3 and allowed just two shots to get through to Thomas. The PK is now 6-for-6 over the last three games.
•Seidenberg returned to the lineup today after two games out with that infected cut on his left leg. He scored his fifth goal of the season and logged 24:53 of ice time. He was credited with three hits.
•Also back in the Boston lineup was Daniel Paille, who had been a healthy scratch since Peverley’s return in Anaheim. Paille replaced Gregory Campbell, who was out with a lower-body-injury, on the fourth line. Paille did not land a shot on net in 10:12 of action. Brian Rolston dropped down and centered that line in Campbell’s absence.
•The Bruins snapped the Rangers’ four-game winning streak and prevented New York from clinching the No. 1 seed in the East. Marian Gaborik scored New York’s lone goal, his fourth goal against the Bruins this season. Assuming the Rangers eventually wrap up that No. 1 seed, the Bruins and Rangers wouldn’t be able to meet again unless they both made it through to the conference finals.